In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court by Brittney Griner with Sue Hovey

In My Skin chronicles Brittney Griner‘s life growing up in Houston, Texas and her emergence as one of the most recognizable and talented stars of women’s college and professional basketball. Her book is my latest in the LUYC my reading escapade series.

Griner describes growing up ostracized and bullied by her peers because she was considered unusual looking for a girl (i.e. tall, masculine, a tomboy). When Griner was recruited by Baylor University, this was a signal that basketball was a place where her size, strength, and athletic abilities were embraced. Throughout Griner also describes being such a dominant force on the court that many teams strategically fouled her in order to undermine her game.

Being a successful athlete who is openly lesbian, Griner spends much of the book describing this experience as a paradox. For instance, in college, Griner was encouraged by her coach to keep her sexuality “private” so as to reflect a “positive” image of Baylor (whose policies are rooted in Christianity). The resentment and anger at being put in this position is candidly discussed.

While the writing of In My Skin is quite simplistic, the messaging is really important. Self-love, honesty, resilience, authenticity, and strength of character are what Griner wants us to take away from her story. She recognizes her position as a role model for women athletes, especially those who are LGBTQ identified, and writes her story specifically for this audience, which is generous and really impressive. It made me appreciate her, and the book, all the more.

The Reappearing Act by Kate Fagan

I’ve mentioned Kate Fagan before on this website. Fagan is a columnist and feature writer with ESPN and espnW. She has previously covered the basketball team, Philadelphia 76ers, for the Philadelphia Inquirer. During college, Fagan played Division I basketball at the University of Colorado.

The Reappearing Act, my fourth book choice in the LUYC my reading escapade series, chronicles Fagan’s struggle with her sexual identity while playing elite level women’s basketball at college. It also details the influence of Christianity on her and her teammates, as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was a popular and active group during Fagan’s time at the University of Colorado.

Fagan’s writing personality is quirky and insightful – I had some laugh-out-loud moments…but I also felt a lot of compassion for her. Her journey through the University of Colorado women’s basketball program was wrought with peer pressure, and when playing a team sport there’s nothing worse than feeling that you don’t belong.

Fagan’s book avoids demonizing or sensationalizing any one group, nor does it sugarcoat her experiences of terror and confusion at being ‘found out’ as gay. What struck me time and again throughout is how alone Fagan was in her circumstance. Discussing homosexuality caused such controversy, rejection, and discomfort amongst her and her teammates, that Fagan often describes feelings of ostracism and contempt. Even those that understood her feelings were reluctant to encourage honesty and openness, as they themselves knew firsthand how vulnerable it is being lgbtq identified in an overwhelmingly heterosexist, and at times homophobic, environment.

I liked the book and appreciated its candour. I was also fascinated by Fagan’s description of college life as an elite athlete: private facilities, Nike sponsored athletic gear, top-notch training facilities, national media coverage…here in Canada our programs are nowhere near this. Furthermore, being an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender athlete is still quite taboo. Fagan’s story is a reflection of this and I wish there were more of these stories out there to read.

Sports Journalism: Gender Stirs It Up

Does anyone remember when Don Cherry said, live on CBC: Hockey Night in Canada in Spring 2013, that “I don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room”? And Ron MacLean reacted in embarrassment and total disagreement?

Cherry’s comments caused controversy because so much has changed and not changed. There are women who work in sports journalism and play sports and are good at both. Why the controversy over their presence? Is it because they disrupt people’s notions of what’s right and wrong in sports journalism and in regards to gender norms? Or is it because men just want to set the terms, expectations, and rules of sports journalism, and not be challenged by women to grow up, EVOLVE?

Whatever the reasons, women have every right to participate in all areas of sports journalism.

Sports Illustrated (SI) recently wrote about Fox’s decision to replace Pam Oliver, a seasoned NFL sports reporter, with Erin Andrews (who notices the differences in Wikipedia’s profiles of Oliver and Andrews? I do). Oliver, who has been working as an NFL sideline reporter for 20 years, was replaced/demoted due to “restructuring”, “rebranding”, whatever.

Yet as SI notes: “removing the well-regarded and well-connected Oliver from the No. 1 team, not to mention initially wanting her out of sideline reporting altogether, seems counter to what a sports network should want in an NFL reporter. Why the decision to make the switch? … A veteran NFL reporter -– who has worked in television and asked for anonymity -– offered another reason. ‘She’s not blonde, nor is she in the demographic,’ said the reporter. ‘I’m not naïve and I understand it’s a business, but I think that Fox did not treat her as befits a woman who has been the female face of their sports operation for the past 19 years’”.

When I googled women sports reporters what came up was a series of articles and lists of the hottest women sports reporters. How gross and insulting. Period. No other way to swing this – women are valued for their beauty, and if they’re smart on top of that, well great, but not the most important thing, if at all! Ugh.

The Bleacher Report has a list of the most popular women sports reporters. Notice a few trends?

Kate Fagan, a writer for ESPN, was interviewed about this by the Huffington Post. Fagan gets right to the point by saying: “I make a concerted effort to tweet stories written by women, to respond to emails and engage with other women in the business so that as we each grow in our careers, we have this circle and network around us and we’re not relying on the men above us to be the sole definition of our careers”.

Because if women were to solely rely on men for their advancement, they would be stuck…glass ceiling styles. That’s why it’s so important for women to support each other and advocate for diversity and access. Because if we don’t, outdated and superficial expectations are projected onto us, like, we don’t belong in men’s locker rooms or we don’t know shit about sports or we’re only watchable if we’re “beautiful” or “sexy” in a conventional way.

For anyone who thinks this, or like this, of women…you are a dinosaur.